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Twelve Ravens thoughts ahead of 53-man roster cuts

Posted on 28 August 2018 by Luke Jones

With the Ravens wrapping up the preseason and poised to formulate their first 53-man roster of the 2018 season this week, I’ve offered a dozen thoughts, each in 50 words or less:

1. Kamalei Correa was a disappointment compared to several second-round standouts on which the Ravens passed, but Day 3 of the 2016 draft produced three projected 2018 starters as well as four others who’ve already been — or have a good chance to be — real contributors. Any team would gladly take that.

2. That said, the 2016 draft is arguably a microcosm of the last five years. The organization has done a great job finding late-round contributors, but the sixth overall selection and early second- and third-round picks should net more than a solid but not yet spectacular Ronnie Stanley. More playmakers, right?

3. Correa reunites with Dean Pees after many blamed the former defensive coordinator for moving him to inside linebacker. A former Ravens scout told me last winter Correa’s versatility was what the organization always valued the most, but he didn’t excel in any one area. Solely blaming Pees is too convenient.

4. Ignoring previous expectations, acquiring a 2019 sixth-round pick is a good return for Correa when you consider Cleveland recently netted only a 2020 seventh-round selection for former first-round receiver Corey Coleman, who was more accomplished than the reserve linebacker.

5. With Jaleel Scott already on injured reserve and fellow rookies DeShon Elliott and Greg Senat likely to follow, the Ravens could end up keeping their entire 12-man draft class in the organization. With the lengths Ozzie Newsome went to collect late choices in this draft, that’s not a bad thing.

6. After being asked if Gus Edwards leaving Monday’s practice was another “mysterious” injury — it wasn’t — I’d be remiss not to note that IR players count against the cap and are unavailable for the rest of the season. Edwards makes sense on your practice squad, but teams can’t “stash” everyone.

7. I’ve repeatedly stated my position on keeping three quarterbacks, but Robert Griffin III has done everything he could to stick. He easily could have sulked after Lamar Jackson was drafted, but he’s instead mentored the young quarterback, who will hopefully have an easier career path to navigate as a result.

8. Thursday’s distribution of playing time between Jackson and Griffin could offer a clue to the direction the Ravens lean. If Griffin plays sparingly, perhaps the coaches don’t want their primary backup exposed to injury. A lengthier outing may mean he’s being allowed to audition for another job. We’ll see.

9. Longtime special-teams standout Albert McClellan is perceived to be on the bubble, but I wouldn’t be surprised to see him coaching whenever he’s done playing. I was reminded recently that former Raven Bennie Thompson immediately took a Baltimore coaching role upon being cut from the roster in 2000.

10. Coaches have been in the ear of Jordan Lasley all summer, which is often a sign of a staff being invested in a player’s development. However, his effort has been inconsistent, which hurts his case. Cutting him wouldn’t exactly be a great look after the disappointing Scott went to IR.

11. John Harbaugh said Orlando Brown Jr. has proven himself as a “viable” player, but describing the rest of the offensive line depth as “developing” isn’t a glowing endorsement. Adding a veteran reinforcement should be a priority, but there isn’t enough offensive line depth to go around in today’s NFL.

12. Draft standing matters when comparing similar young bubble players. Is a former fourth-rounder such as Nico Siragusa or a late sixth-rounder like Bradley Bozeman more likely to clear waivers for the practice squad? Why else has former second-rounder Stanley Jean-Baptiste been with six organizations despite playing in five NFL games?

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Sizing up the 2018 Ravens roster entering fourth preseason game

Posted on 24 August 2018 by Luke Jones

With two preseason games remaining, it’s time to to once again examine the Ravens’ 53-man roster as we move closer to final cuts being made next weekend.

My current assessment suggests as many as 44 players would be considered safely on the roster if the deadline were to come now. This number is higher than in recent years and reflects the lack of roster turnover on the defensive side of the ball, the team-record-tying 12 selections in this year’s draft, and the absence of any season-ending injuries being sustained so far this summer.

My rough assessment of the 91 players currently on the roster — fullback Christopher Ezeala carries an international player roster exemption — lists 20 on the bubble. Not all bubble players are on equal footing, of course, with some position groups lacking as much quality depth and others enjoying an abundance of talent and likely falling victim to the numbers game. It’s also important to consider any player’s contract status as the organization is more likely to retain a player with multiple years of control remaining compared to one similar — or even marginally better — in talent who’s nearing the end of his contract.

Though general manager Ozzie Newsome, coach John Harbaugh, and the rest of the coaching staff and front office are cognizant of the numbers at each position, arbitrarily trying to pinpoint a specific number of tight ends or inside linebackers or wide receivers isn’t the most accurate way of projecting a roster. The Ravens are always looking for reserves who will excel on special teams, so coaches will look carefully at players’ other attributes in addition to what they bring to their specific positions when filling out the end of the roster.

The numbers in parentheses indicate the total number of players currently on the roster at that given position. Bubble players who are underlined are the ones making the cut for the projected 53-man roster as of Aug. 24. You can check out last week’s projection HERE.

QUARTERBACKS (4)
IN: Joe Flacco, Lamar Jackson
BUBBLE: Robert Griffin III
LONG SHOT: Josh Woodrum
Skinny: Harbaugh said the decision whether to keep Griffin will “go right to the wire” next week, but I continue to see too many other useful players at other positions for the Ravens to carry three quarterbacks for the first time since 2009. This decision has always been much more about Jackson than Griffin, so seeing the rookie make strides over the last two preseason games would ease concerns.

RUNNING BACKS & FULLBACKS (8)
IN: Alex Collins, Buck Allen, Kenneth Dixon, Patrick Ricard
BUBBLE: none
LONG SHOT: Gus Edwards, Mark Thompson, De’Lance Turner
PRACTICE SQUAD ROSTER EXEMPTION: Christopher Ezeala
Skinny: Dixon showed Monday exactly what the organization needed to see to eliminate any notion of him being on the bubble, but durability continues to be a concern with the 2016 fourth-round pick. Edwards is closer to being a practice-squad candidate than to having much of a chance to making the team, but it was interesting to see him line up as a fullback in a short-yardage situation on Monday.

WIDE RECEIVERS (12)
IN: Michael Crabtree, John Brown, Willie Snead, Chris Moore
BUBBLE: Jordan Lasley, Jaleel Scott, Tim White, Janarion Grant, Breshad Perriman
LONG SHOT: Andre Levrone, DeVier Posey
RESERVE PHYSICALLY UNABLE TO PERFORM LIST: Quincy Adeboyejo
Skinny: The young wide receivers are the most disappointing position group of the summer as Lasley has regressed and Scott appears in great danger of becoming the first fourth-round pick in franchise history to be cut as a rookie. Returner candidates White and Grant each fumbled against the Colts and haven’t done enough to warrant a spot while Perriman still hasn’t played a single special-teams play.

TIGHT ENDS (7)
IN: Hayden Hurst, Nick Boyle, Mark Andrews
BUBBLE: Maxx WilliamsDarren Waller, Vince Mayle
LONG SHOT: Nick Keizer
Skinny: The foot injury to Hurst improves the chances of Williams sticking to start the year since the Ravens use tight ends prominently in their run-blocking schemes. And with young wide receivers like Scott disappointing this summer and taking into account his special-teams skills, Waller could land on the roster as a red-zone and slot option while assuming Mayle’s special-teams role from last year.

OFFENSIVE LINEMEN (15)
IN: Marshal Yanda, Ronnie Stanley, Alex Lewis, Matt Skura, James Hurst, Orlando Brown Jr.
BUBBLE:  Nico Siragusa, Bradley Bozeman, Greg Senat, Jermaine Eluemunor
LONG SHOT: Andrew Donnal, Maurquice Shakir, Randin Crecelius, Justin Evans, Cameron Lee
Skinny: Siragusa and Eleumunor have gone in opposite directions with the former improving from the start of camp and the latter not playing like the most experienced member of this bubble group. You can probably flip a coin between Bozeman and Senat as the uncertainty at center and the lack of quality backup options behind Stanley help their roster chances, making it possible they both stick.

DEFENSIVE LINEMEN (10)
IN: Brandon Williams, Willie Henry, Michael Pierce, Chris Wormley, Brent Urban
BUBBLE: Zach SielerCarl Davis, Bronson Kaufusi
LONG SHOT: Myles Humphrey, Christian LaCouture
Skinny: Momentum continues for Sieler to make the roster while the veteran Davis hasn’t done as much to enhance his chances, prompting me to flip those two in the group’s overall hierarchy. Kaufusi’s standing as a former third-round pick is probably the only factor keeping him in any serious roster discussion, but he’s likely on the outside looking in with the versatile Ricard factoring into this group.

INSIDE LINEBACKERS (6)
IN: C.J. Mosley, Patrick Onwuasor, Kenny Young
BUBBLE: Albert McClellan
LONG SHOT: Chris Board, Alvin Jones
RESERVE PHYSICALLY UNABLE TO PERFORM LIST: Bam Bradley
Skinny: McClellan remains a very tough call and still shouldn’t be dismissed as his experience, special-teams ability, and versatility are valuable traits. Young had a strong performance against Indianapolis and appears to be closing the gap with Onwuasor for the starting job next to Mosley, but the weak-side inside spot remains a fair concern going into the regular season.

OUTSIDE LINEBACKERS (7)
IN: Terrell Suggs, Matt Judon, Za’Darius Smith, Tim Williams, Tyus Bowser
BUBBLE: Kamalei Correa
LONG SHOT: none
Skinny: There was much buzz about Correa’s great performance in the Hall of Fame Game, but he’s been quiet in the last two preseason contests and is still depending on his special-teams play and versatility to be the difference in earning a spot. Williams has looked like the most improved player on the roster and is also playing the run better than he did as a rookie last year.

CORNERBACKS (10)
IN: Marlon Humphrey, Brandon Carr, Tavon Young, Maurice Canady, Anthony Averett
BUBBLE: Stanley Jean-Baptiste
LONG SHOT: Darious Williams, Jackson Porter
SUSPENDED: Jimmy Smith
RESERVE PHYSICALLY UNABLE TO PERFORM LIST: Jaylen Hill
Skinny: Smith’s suspension and Canady being in and out of practice with nagging physical issues could prompt the Ravens to keep Jean-Baptiste, who has had a good summer and has impressive 6-foot-3 size on the outside. The argument against keeping him is be the versatility of players such as Canady, Young, Anthony Levine, and Chuck Clark, who can line up in multiple places in the secondary.

SAFETIES (7)
IN: Eric Weddle, Tony Jefferson, Chuck Clark, Anthony Levine
BUBBLE: DeShon Elliott
LONG SHOT: Kai Nacua, Bennett Jackson
Skinny: Between Clark last year and Elliott this spring, the organization has found good value at the safety position in the sixth round, which is important considering how many cap resources are devoted to Weddle and Jefferson. This hasn’t been discussed much, but you would have liked to have seen Jefferson play more in the preseason after he didn’t have the most impressive debut year in Baltimore.

SPECIALISTS (5)
IN: Justin Tucker, Sam Koch, Morgan Cox
BUBBLE: none
LONG SHOT: Kaare Vedvik, Trent Sieg
Skinny: Koch labeled Vedvik “one of the most impressive guys” he’s seen among the many camp bodies to come through Owings Mills and Westminster over so many summers. That’s high praise from a straight shooter like Koch as Vedvik definitely has the talent to catch on elsewhere.

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snead

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Twelve Ravens thoughts counting down to start of training camp

Posted on 12 July 2018 by Luke Jones

With the Ravens beginning full-squad training camp workouts in less than a week, I’ve offered a dozen thoughts, each in 50 words or less:

1. Alex Collins was no fluke in 2017, but he hit the 20-carry mark in just two games and averaged only 3.8 yards per carry over the second half of last season. His slighter 5-foot-10, 210-pound frame still suggests a need for an impactful complementary back like Kenneth Dixon to emerge.

2. I believe Michael Crabtree offers the highest floor and John Brown the highest ceiling of the wide receiver newcomers, but Willie Snead is my sneaky choice to stand out the most. Joe Flacco has been at his best when he’s had reliable slot options like Anquan Boldin and Dennis Pitta.

3. For those inclined to blame Flacco for all of the offense’s problems, Pro Football Focus recently noted the 2017 wide receiver group generated the lowest rate of positively-graded plays and the highest rate of negatively-graded plays in the league last year. Yuck.

4. Speaking of 2017, I’m interested to see how Mike Wallace fares in Philadelphia after somewhat rebooting his career in Baltimore. Many say Flacco doesn’t elevate the play of his receivers, but wouldn’t these guys go elsewhere and at least do as well? Torrey Smith and Kamar Aiken, anyone?

5. Given the untapped youth and long-term questions at both inside and outside linebacker, John Harbaugh is showing great faith in new linebackers coach Mike Macdonald. Veterans Terrell Suggs and C.J. Mosley will be huge assets for the 31-year-old assistant, who was hired by the Ravens in 2014.

6. I’m curious to see who plays center on the first day of full-squad workouts next Thursday. Ryan Jensen topped the depth chart on the first day last year — even as John Urschel surprisingly retired — and never relinquished the spot. Will it be Matt Skura or Alex Lewis?

7. The Ravens ranked 24th in PFF’s preseason offensive line rankings. Whether you agree or not, the publication is spot on saying the group’s upside rests on Marshal Yanda. Is it realistic to expect him to be the same elite player coming off a major injury and being another year older?

8. I’m frequently asked about Lamar Jackson possibly starting over Flacco this year, but I only see it if the Ravens enter December with a 4-7 record and are out of the playoff race. Assuming Flacco and the offense haven’t played well under that scenario, Jackson playing would be a no-brainer.

9. I won’t hide from my criticism of the Ravens drafting a first-round quarterback this year, but that won’t temper my excitement to watch Jackson play this summer. I rarely look forward to “fake” football, but this is easily the most anticipated preseason for this organization in a long time.

10. It’s easy and fair to label Breshad Perriman, Kamalei Correa, Maxx Williams, and Bronson Kaufusi as potential cuts, but the Ravens rarely give up on former early picks until they absolutely have to. The disappointing Terrence Cody was even re-signed for another year. Just keep that in mind.

11. Close to 2,000 fans being able to attend training camp daily will be a plus for an organization needing to reconnect more strongly with its fans. The fallout of leaving Westminster was always going to be felt more at a time when the Ravens weren’t winning as frequently.

12. I get the rationale and advantages of the new digital ticket system, but the collector in me is bummed to see traditional game tickets go away. Hopefully the complimentary programs will continue to be distributed for years to come to appease those still desiring a physical souvenir from the game.

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martindale

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Five questions for Ravens defense entering organized team activities

Posted on 23 May 2018 by Luke Jones

Contrary to what you might conclude from this offseason, the Ravens do have another side of the ball.

While spending most attention and resources on revamping the NFL’s 29th-ranked passing game, general manager Ozzie Newsome parted ways with only one player — defensive back Lardarius Webb — who played defensive snaps in 2017. That’s a remarkable level of continuity in this era, but will it pay off?

The Ravens defense was exceptional at times in 2017, leading the league in takeaways and pitching three shutouts. The group ranked in the top 10 in most significant statistical categories until late in the season and still finished fifth overall in Football Outsiders’ weighted defense rankings.

But the defense struggled down the stretch, blowing a late lead in Pittsburgh for the second year in a row and suffering one of the bigger collapses in team history when Cincinnati scored on a fourth-and-12 play from the Baltimore 49 with under a minute left in Week 17 to knock the Ravens out of the playoffs. No matter what the numbers said, the defense came up small in some of the biggest moments of the season.

Below are five pressing questions for the Ravens defense as organized team activities are now underway:

1. How much will change under new defensive coordinator Wink Martindale?

Players have provided glowing endorsements of Martindale and anticipate more flexible and aggressive schemes than those employed by Dean Pees. Criticisms of the former defensive coordinator are fair — leaving Brandon Carr on an island with Antonio Brown late in the Week 14 loss to the Steelers was just one example — but these types of sentiments about new coaches are commonplace whenever teams fall short the previous season. It’s easy to subtly point fingers at individuals no longer in the picture, but Martindale’s roots with the Ryan family are definitely intriguing from a schematic standpoint. On the flip side, the former linebackers coach must prove his failed stint in Denver eight years ago was mostly due to the Broncos’ lack of talent since this defense has the talent to be a good-to-great unit.

2. Who will man the inside linebacker position next to C.J. Mosley?

This is likely a multi-pronged answer since former rookie free agent Patrick Onwuasor started 13 games at the weak-side spot and the dime package was frequently used in passing situations with an extra safety playing in the box last season. The Ravens should continue to be creative with sub packages, but they need more consistency at this position in the base defense, whether it’s Onwuasor taking the next step in his development or fourth-round rookie Kenny Young seizing the opportunity to get on the field. You’d expect Martindale to continue to use the likes of Anthony Levine and Chuck Clark in the dime package when appropriate, but Baltimore identifying another inside linebacker who can hold up in pass coverage will be vital to the overall success and flexibility of the defense.

3. Will the Ravens get more out of safety Tony Jefferson?

The prize free-agent acquisition of 2017 was ordinary in his first year with the Ravens, providing ammunition for critics who wondered why Newsome invested a four-year $34 million contract in a box safety when there were clear needs on the other side of the ball a year ago. Many point to Pees too frequently using Jefferson away from the line of scrimmage — a valid claim, especially in the first half of the 2017 season — but there were also examples of him being beaten in coverage by tight ends and not being as strong against the run as advertised. Martindale should continue using Jefferson in the box as much as possible, but Eric Weddle will need to be able to hold up in back-end coverage. Even after a restructure, Jefferson has the team’s ninth-highest cap number and must bring more to the table.

4. What will the 5-technique defensive end spot look like?

The season-ending loss of Brent Urban in Week 3 last season was unfortunate after the 6-foot-7, 300-pound lineman appeared on his way to becoming an impact player, and the Ravens struggled to fill this position for much of the season, another factor that hurt their run defense in addition to the four-game absence of Brandon Williams. Re-signing Urban to a cheap one-year deal was a prudent move, but counting on a player who’s missed 39 games in a four-year career is problematic at best. Carl Davis shifted outside to do a respectable job in the second half of last season, but he’s also entering the final year of his contract, making it critical for either 2017 third-round pick Chris Wormley or 2016 third-round pick Bronson Kaufusi to step up to become a real contributor at this spot.

5. How will a deep group of cornerbacks be handled?

On paper, this is one of the deepest cornerback groups the Ravens have ever had with young talents still pursuing their ceiling. Jimmy Smith’s health is the major question as he recovers from last December’s torn Achilles tendon, but Marlon Humphrey looked the part of a future shutdown corner as a rookie and the solid veteran Carr was retained as a pricey insurance policy. Beyond that, Tavon Young is back in the fold after serving as a strong slot defender as a rookie two years ago, and Maurice Canady will try to build on his late success at the nickel last season. Those numbers don’t even take into account fourth-round rookie Anthony Averett or Jaylen Hill, who showed potential last summer before being stricken with injuries. If all are healthy — a major if — Martindale will have a good problem on his hands.

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Five young players the Ravens need more from in 2018

Posted on 16 February 2018 by Luke Jones

Urgency is at an all-time high in the John Harbaugh era with the Ravens falling short of the playoffs for the third straight year and fourth time in five seasons.

Most offseason attention has naturally fallen on free agency and the draft, but a less-than-ideal salary cap situation and picks falling in the middle of each round are challenges to making significant improvements to last year’s team. Those realities make it critical for the Ravens to see improvement from within as they did from Matthew Judon and Willie Henry in 2017.

It’s no secret that a number of underwhelming Day 1 and Day 2 draft picks in recent years have stunted the upside of rosters and have even forced general manager Ozzie Newsome to dump further resources into certain positions. Safety is one example as failed draft picks Matt Elam and Terrence Brooks and a number of underwhelming free-agent additions preceded the expensive contracts awarded to Eric Weddle and Tony Jefferson in the last two offseasons.

Below is a look at five young players the Ravens need more from in 2018 to improve their chances of making it back to the postseason:

2017 list
2016 list
2015 list
2014 list

1. LB Tyus Bowser

The 2017 second-round pick from Houston looked poised to become a standout rookie when he recorded a sack and an interception against Cleveland in Week 2, but a rough performance in London the following week led to him playing more than 10 defensive snaps in only three more contests the rest of the way. With Terrell Suggs turning 36 in October and entering the final year of his contract and backup Za’Darius Smith also a free agent after 2018, Bowser needs to look like a player ready to step into a starting role in 2019 if needed. New defensive coordinator Wink Martindale shouldn’t hesitate to utilize Bowser’s athleticism and versatility in creative ways like Rex Ryan did with Bart Scott years ago.

2. DE Chris Wormley

Wormley became the latest 5-technique defensive end drafted by Baltimore to make little impact in his rookie year, but it’s a position requiring strength and discipline, making it less than shocking that the third-round pick from Michigan played only 120 defensive snaps. This is a critical offseason for him with the oft-injured Brent Urban being a free agent, 2017 starter Carl Davis recovering from shoulder surgery, and 2016 third-round pick Bronson Kaufusi rapidly approaching bust territory. There’s a golden opportunity for Wormley to seize the starting job and become a meaningful contributor as an inside pass rusher in sub packages, another need for the Baltimore defense.

3. LB Tim Williams

Are you noticing a trend here? The Ravens went all in on defense in the 2017 draft and received very little from their trio of Day 2 picks as Williams was inactive for eight games and played only 125 defensive snaps. It was hardly a shock to see the Alabama product struggle to set the edge and establish a role on special teams, but he’ll need to improve in these areas to put himself in better position for meaningful playing time. That said, Williams being a rush specialist in college was hardly a secret and the coaching staff needs to find ways to get him on the field to take advantage of that valuable dimension. As previously mentioned with Bowser, more snaps should be there if Williams is ready to capitalize.

4. G Alex Lewis

Of course, Lewis sat out the entire 2017 season after undergoing shoulder surgery in training camp, but this came after he missed eight starts due to injury as a rookie, making his durability a legitimate concern. The 2016 fourth-round pick showed promise at left guard as a rookie and even filled in at an acceptable level at left tackle when Ronnie Stanley was injured, but the time is now for Lewis to firmly entrench himself as a dependable starter, especially with starting center Ryan Jensen a free agent and questionable to return. With there being so many questions at wide receiver and tight end, the Ravens need their offensive line to be as strong as possible and Lewis is a major key to that happening.

5. WR Chris Moore

The special-teams standout’s mention on this list is a product of circumstance as he is the only sure bet among the incumbent wide receivers to be on next year’s roster. Moore received praise for his play down the stretch and recorded half of his season receptions and two of his three touchdowns in December, but that excitement was more a response to the terrible play of Breshad Perriman than anything else. The second-year wideout only reined in 18 of 38 targets and needs to be more consistent to be considered as much as a No.3 option. Make no mistake, Moore has met expectations as a fourth-round pick with his play on special teams alone, but the Ravens need as much help as possible at wide receiver.

Others considered: WR Breshad Perriman, LB Kamalei Correa, DE Bronson Kaufusi, G Nico Siragusa, RB Kenneth Dixon

Perriman, Correa, and Kaufusi landed on the wrong side of this list after being non-factors at positions that had major opportunities for playing time in 2017. There’s always the chance of any of these former early draft picks being late bloomers, but that sentiment now falls more into the category of wishful thinking rather than there being serious expectations. We’ve heard little about Siragusa’s recovery from a serious knee injury, but the Ravens had high hopes for him as a 2017 fourth-round pick and could have an opening at center. Dixon is a wild card after suffering a season-ending knee injury in July and serving two drug-related bans. The talent is there, but is he healthy and truly committed to playing in the NFL?

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brandonwilliams

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How did Ravens defensive linemen stack up to rest of NFL in 2017?

Posted on 25 January 2018 by Luke Jones

The Ravens failed to make the postseason for the fourth time in five years, but where exactly did their players stack up across the NFL in 2017?

Whether it’s discussing the Pro Bowl or picking postseason awards, media and fans spend much time debating where players rank at each position, but few put in the necessary time and effort to watch every player on every team extensively enough to develop any kind of an authoritative opinion.

Truthfully, how many times did you closely watch the offensive line of the Los Angeles Chargers this season? What about the Detroit Lions linebackers or the Miami Dolphins cornerbacks?

That’s why I can appreciate projects such as Bleacher Report’s NFL1000 and the grading efforts of Pro Football Focus. Of course, neither should be viewed as the gospel of evaluation and each is subjective, but I respect the exhaustive effort to grade players across the league when so many of us watch only one team or one division on any kind of a consistent basis. It’s important to note that the following PFF rankings are where the player stood at the conclusion of the regular season.

Below is a look at where Ravens defensive linemen ranked across the league, according to those outlets:

Running backs

Brandon Williams
2017 defensive snap count: 475
NFL1000 ranking: 23rd among defensive tackles
PFF ranking: 19th among interior defenders
Skinny: Those who were reluctant to see the Ravens give Williams a monster contract saw the defense give up the most rushing yards in the NFL during his four-game absence in September and October. The 28-year-old isn’t a pass rusher, but PFF ranked him fifth among interior linemen against the run.

Michael Pierce
2017 defensive snap count: 595
NFL1000 ranking: 20th among defensive tackles
PFF ranking: 22nd among interior defenders
Skinny: The second-year nose tackle built on his successful rookie season with plenty of success as a starter, finishing with 49 tackles and one sack while playing all 16 games. Like Williams, Pierce doesn’t offer much rushing the passer, but he’s been a heck of a find as a former undrafted free agent.

Willie Henry
2017 defensive snap count: 598
NFL1000 ranking: 50th among defensive tackles
PFF ranking: 45th among interior defenders
Skinny: After not playing a snap as a rookie and being a healthy scratch for the first two weeks of 2017, Henry rapidly emerged as Baltimore’s best pass-rushing defensive lineman, finishing with 3 1/2 sacks and five batted passes. His improvement was critical as others dealt with injuries at various points.

Carl Davis
2017 defensive snap count: 302
NFL1000 ranking: 19th among 3-4 defensive ends
PFF ranking: 78th among interior defenders
Skinny: The 2015 third-round pick’s career hasn’t gone as planned thus far, but Davis helped solidify the 5-technique spot after Brent Urban was lost for the season and younger options Chris Wormley and Bronson Kaufusi weren’t up to the task. He finished with 17 tackles, one-half sack, and one batted pass.

Brent Urban
2017 defensive snap count: 123
NFL1000 ranking: 27th among 3-4 defensive ends
PFF ranking: n/a
Skinny: The 6-foot-7 free agent looked poised for a strong 2017 after an impressive preseason, but the injury bug bit him again as he suffered a season-ending Lisfranc injury in Week 3. Re-signing Urban on the cheap isn’t out of the question, but he’s missed 39 games in his four seasons.

Chris Wormley
2017 defensive snap count: 120
NFL1000 ranking: n/a
PFF ranking: n/a
Skinny: The Ravens would’ve liked to see the third-round rookie from Michigan make more of an impact after Urban went down early in the season, but it’s not unusual to see a 5-technique defensive end need more seasoning. This will be a critical offseason for Wormley to show he’s ready for a bigger role.

Bronson Kaufusi
2017 defensive snap count: 33
NFL1000 ranking: n/a
PFF ranking: n/a
Skinny: Kaufusi had the chance to be the next man up when he received a Week 4 start, but he was ineffective and then inactive for 10 of the final 12 games. The clock’s ticking for the 2016 third-round pick to prove he’s not a bust, but the circumstances were there for him to get on the field this past season.

2018 positional outlook

The interior defensive line remains in very good shape with Williams and Pierce serving as strong anchors, but the 5-technique defensive end spot remains an uncertain position, especially with the recent news of Davis undergoing shoulder surgery. Using third-round picks on Kaufusi and Wormley the last two years should have more than taken care of that position, but the former may not be a sure thing to even make the 53-man roster after being a total non-factor in his second season and the jury is still out on Wormley after a quiet rookie campaign. Questions about these two could prompt the Ravens to have more interest in re-signing Urban, but he’s not dependable — even at a cheap price. The departure of Lawrence Guy last March turned out to be a bigger loss than anticipated, so it’s possible general manager Ozzie Newsome could be on the hunt for a veteran bargain to stabilize the depth at defensive end.

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ramsey

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Some draft criticism unfair, but sum of parts still not adding up for Ravens

Posted on 16 January 2018 by Luke Jones

Some of the commentary from Ravens fans watching the divisional round of the playoffs was predictable.

All these years later, some still squawk about general manager Ozzie Newsome selecting Morehouse offensive lineman Ramon Harewood a pick before Pittsburgh took Central Michigan wide receiver Antonio Brown with the 195th overall selection of the 2010 draft. At this point, ESPN might as well make a “30 for 30” special on the two individuals just to torment Ravens fans.

Yes, the Steelers were so much smarter than Baltimore that they passed on the eventual best wide receiver in the NFL eight different times in that draft and took such studs as Crezdon Butler and Stevenson Sylvester before finally grabbing Brown in the sixth round.

It’s no secret that the Ravens could have traded with Dallas in 2016 to move up from the sixth spot to take future Pro Bowl cornerback Jalen Ramsey fourth overall, but Newsome didn’t want to part with his third-round pick that was used on defensive end Bronson Kaufusi, who’s played all of three games in two years. In a vacuum, it’s easy to call that a bad decision, but let’s remember quarterback Joe Flacco was rehabbing a torn ACL at the time and the Ravens didn’t have a trustworthy left tackle on the roster after the big contract awarded to Eugene Monroe two years earlier had turned out to be such a failure. Even if Ramsey becomes a Hall of Famer and Ronnie Stanley is never anything more than a reliable left tackle, it’s tough to be outraged by such a move if you’re someone who’s also blasted the organization for repeatedly neglecting its offense since Super Bowl XLVII.

Jacksonville linebacker Myles Jack intercepting a Ben Roethlisberger pass Sunday prompted some to point out that the Ravens passed on him, electing to trade back two different times to eventually take the disappointing Kamalei Correa in the second round of that same 2016 draft. However, the Ravens were far from the only team to pass on Jack, who was projected by some to be a top 5 pick if not for major concerns about the health of his knee. They also came away with starting outside linebacker Matthew Judon and strong special-teams contributor Chris Moore with those trades while Jack hasn’t been anything more than a solid starter for the Jaguars to this point.

If you really want to be mad about that second round, instead point to the Ravens taking Correa five picks before New Orleans drafted Pro Bowl wide receiver Michael Thomas, who’s caught a whopping 197 passes in his first two years.

And then there’s Minnesota wide receiver Stefon Diggs, the former University of Maryland standout who caught the miracle 61-yard touchdown from Case Keenum to send the Vikings to the NFC championship game. Even before Sunday’s heroics, this one had been reignited by the recent Sports Illustrated article citing Diggs’ mother telling Newsome that he should have been fired for not taking her son.

There’s no question that the Ravens should have had an advantage on intel about a prospect playing 40 miles down the road, but there were fair concerns about Diggs, ranging from his injury history in College Park to questions about his maturity. As a result, this was a player passed over multiple times by every team in the league, so the Ravens weren’t alone and Washington didn’t take the local kid either.

In the same way that I have a difficult time heaping too much praise on the Ravens for “discovering” Alex Collins when they were one of 31 teams who didn’t claim him on waivers at the end of the preseason and initially promoted Jeremy Langford from the practice squad over him, I struggle to criticize the organization too sharply for passing on Diggs — even if you wish they would have taken a chance on him rather than the little-known Tray Walker at the end of that fourth round.

The truth is you can go back in time to any draft and nitpick why Player A was taken over Player B over and over and over. Even after selecting two future Hall of Famers with his first two picks of the 1996 draft, Newsome took underwhelming cornerback DeRon Jenkins six spots before future nine-time Pro Bowl safety Brian Dawkins went to Philadelphia in the second round.

See how easy that was?

These arguments are easy to make with hindsight and lack context unless you’re talking about a clear-cut example such as two quarterbacks being taken with the first two picks of the draft. Even then, do you ever notice how you struggle to find anyone who would have drafted Ryan Leaf over Peyton Manning in 1998 despite that being a major debate at the time? Most critics aren’t so eager to point out the ones they were wrong about years later.

(For the record, I leaned toward Leaf as a know-it-all 14-year-old.)

As much as teams try to make the draft a science, much of it remains art with too many variables to possibly control. Even at their best, the Ravens never batted 1.000 in the draft, so there will always be picks to critique as many are doing now.

The real problem isn’t passing on these aforementioned players, but it’s that the Ravens haven’t been making enough great picks of their own in recent years to make these second-guessing exercises a moot point. At the macro level, it’s more than fair to argue that the Ravens have too frequently played it safe, relied on quantity over quality, and possibly even conformed with too much groupthink in recent drafts.

Sometimes you have to take a risk to come away with a truly great playmaker or two, which is something the Ravens desperately need on the offensive side of the ball and have for a long time now. You also can’t allow a failed pick like Breshad Perriman deter you from being bold when appropriate.

It’s not a secret that the organization has slanted much more toward defense with 13 of their 17 Day 1 and 2 picks since Super Bowl XLVII being on that side of the ball. That’s enough of a lopsided ratio to make you question whether the Ravens are valuing defensive players too much in favor of truly picking “the best player available” when on the clock.

Their recent drafts haven’t been as disastrous as some want to claim — the Ravens have still found plenty of good value in the latter half of drafts despite recent Day 1 and 2 problems — but they’ve merely been much more ordinary after years of the draft being considered a major advantage for Newsome and the Ravens over other teams.

Even if many of the decisions appeared sound at the time, the sum of the parts has still added up to too much mediocrity, the same place the Ravens are trying to escape.

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Twelve Ravens thoughts following 31-27 loss to Cincinnati

Posted on 02 January 2018 by Luke Jones

With the Ravens missing the playoffs for the fourth time in five years in a 31-27 loss to Cincinnati, I’ve offered a dozen thoughts, each in 50 words or less:

1. I initially called it the most devastating home loss in team history and was quickly reminded by several folks on Twitter of the crushing 2006 playoff defeat to Indianapolis. They were right, but I’ll still say this was the most stunning home defeat in 22 seasons of Ravens football.

2. Andy Dalton’s 49-yard touchdown to Tyler Boyd will be remembered, but don’t forget the horrendous first half that put the Ravens in a hole. His team looking flat and unprepared with the season on the line was a poor reflection on John Harbaugh, especially after a shaky performance against Indianapolis.

3. Maurice Canady was a Week 16 hero, but he was picked on during the final drive and was out of position to make a play on the ball or the tackle on Boyd’s touchdown. Eric Weddle was also in no man’s land in zone after showing blitz before the snap.

4. Remember the talk about the Ravens not letting A.J. Green beat them? The seven-time Pro Bowl wide receiver finished with two catches for 17 yards. Feel any better that the “Tylers” — Boyd and Kroft — did it instead? Yeah, didn’t think so.

5. We certainly saw a less-accurate Joe Flacco than we’d seen in recent weeks and his third-down throwaway before Cincinnati’s final drive was terrible — Mike Wallace was wide open underneath to at least attempt to keep the clock moving — but five drops from his receivers did him no favors.

6. Wallace had a few and is no better than a No. 2 wideout, but letting him walk would feel similar to Torrey Smith’s exit. I also have doubts about Jeremy Maclin’s future, so do you trust the Ravens to add at least two impactful receivers this offseason? I certainly don’t.

7. The defense allowed a whopping 126 rushing yards in the first half and surrendered over 4.0 yards per carry in a season for the first time in team history. Brandon Williams’ four-game absence explains much of that, but the run defense was still quite disappointing relative to expectations.

8. After all the discussion about the impact of Danny Woodhead returning, the 32-year-old caught 30 passes for 167 yards after the bye and eclipsed 40 yards from scrimmage in a game twice. The Ravens touted his signing as their major offensive addition last offseason before Maclin fell into their laps.

9. Breshad Perriman was a healthy scratch in favor of an undrafted rookie receiver who was making his NFL debut in Quincy Adeboyejo. What else is there to say about the 2015 first-round pick?

10. Speaking of underwhelming draft choices, Kamalei Correa, Bronson Kaufusi, Tyus Bowser, Chris Wormley, and Tim Williams combined for seven defensive snaps Sunday. The last three are rookies and absolutely deserve more time before judgment, but that’s not much of an early return from Day 2 of the last two drafts.

11. Flacco throwing well short of the chains on fourth-and-14 was a fitting way to close the book on the 2017 Ravens, but there were only two healthy wide receivers on the field and one was a rookie who had been on the practice squad all year. Not ideal.

12. This had to be one of the weirdest games I’ve ever seen in terms of time of possession. The Ravens held the ball for barely more than nine minutes in the first half while Cincinnati possessed it for less than eight minutes after intermission. Strange.

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Maclin’s status unclear as Ravens prepare for Indianapolis

Posted on 18 December 2017 by Luke Jones

OWINGS MILLS, Md. — Ravens head coach John Harbaugh says wide receiver Jeremy Maclin’s left knee injury is “nothing serious” that would sideline him for the rest of the season.

When the veteran will return is another story, however, as Harbaugh was noncommittal about the Week 16 availability of both Maclin and defensive end Carl Davis, who also left Sunday’s game in Cleveland with a leg injury. They each underwent magnetic resonance imaging exams on Monday.

The 10th-year coach seemed to imply that Maclin and Davis would be unlikely to play against Indianapolis without ruling out either player for Saturday’s game.

“It kind of depends on how they come along the next couple of days and how they progress,” Harbaugh said. “Anywhere from maybe more likely that it wouldn’t be this week and maybe the week after, but you never know. It could be this week with both those guys or either one of those guys. We’ll just see how they progress.

“They wouldn’t have to practice to play in the game at this stage, but they’ll go to work and they’ll do everything they can to be ready for Sunday, I’m sure.”

Maclin injured his left knee on the opening drive of Sunday’s game after making a 22-yard catch and being hit hard by Browns rookie safety Jabrill Peppers. He briefly returned for two snaps late in the first quarter, but he was officially ruled out to begin the second half.

Davis left the game in the second quarter with an apparent leg injury and didn’t return.

It’s been a disappointing season for Maclin, who signed a two-year, $11 million contract with the Ravens in mid-June to be the replacement for the retired Steve Smith. He missed two games with a shoulder injury in October and has dealt with other nagging injuries while making only 40 receptions for 440 yards and three touchdowns in 12 contests.

Since making eight catches for 98 yards — both season highs — against Tennessee on Nov. 5, the 29-year-old has just 13 receptions for 130 yards on 30 targets in five games. He and quarterback Joe Flacco haven’t appeared to be on the same page in recent weeks, something that would have been more understandable in the first half of the season after Flacco missed all of training camp with a back issue.

“That’s a little bit cyclic sometimes,” said offensive coordinator Marty Mornhinweg last week about Maclin’s recent struggles. “There’s never really one thing; it’s usually a combination of things. When you’re in that spot, get the hard work in, make sure you get prepared, let’s make sure we have great focus, and then good things tend to end up happening through all of that. It’s not uncommon to see something like that.”

Davis has made eight starts in 13 games this season and eventually stabilized the 5-technique defensive end spot after the season-ending foot injury suffered by Brent Urban in Week 3. The 2015 third-round pick’s potential absence could spell some trouble as the Ravens haven’t shown much confidence in young defensive ends Chris Wormley and Bronson Kaufusi this season.

Harbaugh was also asked whether running back Alex Collins made it through Sunday’s game OK after he appeared to be laboring on a few occasions and received only four touches in the second half.

“Mhhmm,” said the coach, nodding his head and elaborating no further.

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Twelve Ravens thoughts following 27-24 loss to Chicago

Posted on 17 October 2017 by Luke Jones

With the Ravens suffering their first home defeat to a rookie quarterback in 20 years in the 27-24 loss to Chicago, I’ve offered a dozen thoughts, each in 50 words or less:

1. After earning a stop-the-bleeding win last week, the putrid Ravens offense resurfaced and was responsible for just 11 of the team’s 24 points. Marty Mornhinweg may not deserve all blame, but he should take a cue from Chicago’s playbook that included a halfback pass. Desperate times call for desperate measures.

2. Forgive the baseball comparison, but we were reminded that the Ravens are to wide receivers what the Orioles are to starting pitching. This is a major weakness, but the organization never commits to fixing the issue for the long haul. Sunday was an embarrassing performance from that group.

3. Matthew Judon followed a strong Week 5 with the best game of his career by leading the defense with 12 tackles, two sacks, and two other tackles for a loss. With Terrell Suggs having just turned 35, the Ravens need their young edge rushers to grow up sooner than later.

4. In the first 21 seasons in Baltimore, the Ravens defense never finished worse than 23rd in rushing yards per game and only once (1996) finished worse than 10th in rushing yards per attempt. They currently rank 30th and 21st in those categories. Is this really only about Brandon Williams’ absence?

5. Supporters who refuse to find fault in Joe Flacco are as tiresome as those who want to blame him for everything, but I don’t know how anyone who actually watched the game can criticize him above everything else. He certainly made some mistakes, but did you see those receivers play?

6. Tony Jefferson was beaten for two touchdown passes and ranks 60th among safeties in Pro Football Focus’ grading system after finishing fifth last year. Fellow safety Eric Weddle has also struggled, but the Ravens need to start seeing a better return on the $19 million guaranteed to Jefferson in March.

7. I felt good for Bobby Rainey returning a kickoff for a touchdown after being hit by his own man and alertly getting up. Five years after signing with Baltimore as a rookie free agent and playing for three other teams, Rainey finally appeared in a game for the Ravens.

8. John Harbaugh didn’t offer a glowing endorsement of Bronson Kaufusi after the rest of the defensive line was overworked and he barely played Sunday. Ronnie Stanley certainly hasn’t disappointed, but remember the Ravens could have traded the pick used on Kaufusi to move up for cornerback Jalen Ramsey in 2016.

9. The rushing attack had another strong day, but is the ceiling high enough for it to all but single-handedly win games in a fashion similar to what the Bears did? Considering how inept the passing offense has been across the board, that’s what it might take to be successful.

10. Harbaugh isn’t the only coach with this problem and this isn’t the first time I’ve mentioned this, but it’s maddening how wasteful the Ravens are with timeouts. Burning one when you’re trailing by 11 points and about to attempt a 50-yard field goal with three minutes left is indefensible.

11. We’ll never know if Ozzie Newsome would have made another deal before the start of the season, but how delusional were the Ravens to even suggest they were confident at wide receiver before Maclin fell into their laps in mid-June? And, yes, I know I’m belaboring the point now.

12. The good news is the NFL reeks of mediocrity more than ever and the Ravens’ schedule appears even more favorable after the Aaron Rodgers injury. The bad news is that Sunday’s loss confirms that Baltimore could also lose any of its remaining 10 games. Yes, even the one in Cleveland.

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